Lawyer speaks out about lawsuit against Hacienda HealthCare stemming from woman's death

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- A Phoenix family that sued Hacienda HealthCare a decade ago says they are reliving a nightmare, as they follow the recent rape investigation that came about, after a child was born to a woman in a vegetative state at one of the facilities.

31-year-old Jody Sears died at the South Phoenix location in 2008. The attorney for her family filed a lawsuit, citing allegations related to misconduct and fraud. Hacienda HealthCare, including now-resigned CEO Bill Timmons, were accused and investigated for violations that included poor quality of care, lack of supervision, and fraud. Sears' attorney said they also discovered evidence of a cover-up, and a culture of fear to tell the truth within the workplace.

Arizona's Department of Health Services investigated the complaints surrounding the death, and found many were true.

"A patient just coded by the name of Jody Sears," a person said during a 911 call. "Umm, they're doing CPR."

Sears suffered severe brain damage after a car crash, and had been at Hacienda HealthCare for 18 months when she died.

"She moves around and stuff, and I think she chewed her brief and she probably has that lodged in her throat," said a person during a 911 call.

According to Arizona Department of Health Records, witnesses saw paramedics pull a piece of plastic out of Sears' throat, before she was rushed to the hospital. The family sued Hacienda HealthCare. Timmons claimed Sears died from injuries related to her accident, and not by choking.

"Yet, Mr. Timmons insisted to the Department of Health Services that she did not choke on her diaper and there were no foreign objects in her throat, and we had evidence to prove that was demonstratively false," said attorney John Breslo.

State records reveal several Federal and State deficiencies were substantiated during its investigation into the incident, including the facility's failure to ensure necessary supervision to prevent the choking and death, failure to implement intervention, and failure to report the incident to the state. Breslo said during his investigation, he found many employees were scared to report problems to authorities, and documents indicating Timmons suggested that staff change medical records, in an effort to cover up responsibility.

"My files are publicly available," said Breslo. "I hope Mr. [Rick] Romley takes a look at my file. There are thousands of pages of depositions I think that would be helpful to him, to give him the backstory as he begins his investigation."

After three years of litigation, the Sears case was settled, and both parties signed confidentiality agreements. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Hacienda HealthCare said the facility passed multiple State inspections, and retained its license in the ten years since the case, and they continue to cooperate with Phoenix Police in the current investigation.

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